No constitution is all-acceptable: Nembang
Former Speaker and deputy leader of the main opposition CPN-UML, Subash Chandra Nembang had played an important role in promulgating Nepal’s new constitution in his capacity as Chairman of the Constituent Assembly (CA). Born in 1953, Nembang started his political innings as the first elected Free Student Union chairman of Mahendra Ratna Campus in Ilam. He became general secretary of Nepal Bar Association in 1987. Known as a soft-spoken politician and gentleman, Nembang spoke his mind with The Rising Nepal on the new constitution and its daunting challenges on the occasion of its first anniversary that falls on Monday. Excerpts from the interview:
The new constitution has been described as one of the best charters in the world. But, one year after its promulgation, some leaders are now demanding that it be made acceptable to all. How do you respond to this demand?
The fact of the matter is that the idea of all-acceptability is wrong. It is found nowhere in the world. Constitutions in different countries were accepted by their people, but all are not satisfied with their main law of the land. In the course of writing Nepal’s constitution, all sides had realised this reality. In our context, over 90 per cent of the members of the Constituent Assembly (CA) had endorsed it. In India, only 65 per cent of the CA members approved its statute while it was 52 per cent in the US. Isn’t the statute all-acceptable in India? Isn’t it all-acceptable in the US? So, I do not understand from which angle this issue has been brought into debate. Some disgruntled parties in the parliament participated in all the constitutional processes since the election of the former prime minister, KP Sharma Oli. They voted against Oli. Now they have become a part of the ruling parties after they cast their ballot to elect Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda as the new PM. Hence, who rejected the statute? As far as some discontent is concerned, efforts should be made to address them through talks.
Even before completing a year, the new constitution has already been amended once. Talks of another amendment are in the air. Doesn’t this indicate there was something amiss while writing it?
I don’t think so. It is 100 per cent wrong. Some had not comprehended the statute writing process well. Or we failed to make them understand the intricacies about it. I want to clarify it with an example. After India promulgated its statute, its first meeting of the parliament decided to put all orders/decrees meant for removing the constitutional difficulties to a vote. If endorsed, the orders would be a part of the constitution. And this happened. India made such constitutional arrangements to address issues that did not come to notice or were unsettled in the course of statute-making. In our context, we did not bring such a provision.
India’s statute has been amended 122 times. Can you say that the Indian statute is imperfect? You can’t. Therefore, a statute can’t be incomplete just because some questions have been raised about it. Nepal’s constitution is good and exceptional. It has flexible provisions to address the concerns of dissatisfied groups. Constitutions all over the world have become strong by following a similar process. While moving ahead as per this process, this will in no way mean that our statute is incomplete and imperfect.
The amendment issue made the rounds before Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda embarked on his India visit. What is the stand of the opposition on this issue?
Yes, here lies the surprise. When the ruling CPN-Maoist Centre was a part of the UML-led government, it asked us to hold discussion among the parties to frame laws to implement the statute. Now it is at the helm of power but has not consulted with us with respect to statute amendment. To this day, it has not said a word with the main opposition regarding the amendment. Quite the contrary, we have heard that the ruling parties are raising the amendment issue outside the country. We are at our wits’ end.
Does this amount to the violation of sovereignty?
If the statute amendment issue has been discussed outside the country, it is a very serious matter. We strongly object to such a reckless act through your newspaper. If the ruling parties have an agenda to amend the statute, it should be first discussed within the country, and the opposition should be well informed about this.
Some Madhesi parties have claimed that the statute has about 88 discriminatory provisions against Madhes. What is your take on it?
I humbly request them to categorically show me which provision is discriminatory. There is no such discrimination. We have written a good statute. It is not unnatural to hear voices of dissatisfaction. The major political parties themselves have reservations about it. The political parties also compromised on their stances. Since the three major parties that consist of two-thirds of the CA had given up their stances, should the other parties not compromise on their differences? This is a moot question. I would again like to put this matter simply: how can the statute-writing process reach a conclusion if the parties stick to their stances?
The success of the statute largely hinges on the success of federalism. But, there are still some disputes over it. How can the federal question be sorted out?
Based on a due process, the Nepalese people have, for the first time, promulgated their statute by themselves. We should move ahead by discussing its contents and amending it if necessary. To elucidate my point, I would like to cite India’s case again. The Indian statute was amended 122 times. Still many Indian states and people are not satisfied. It is their internal affair, and I do not want to talk more about it. Our statute has a provision to address the people’s discontent, too.
The federalism issue is getting more complicated with the Madhesi parties demanding that only two provinces be created in the southern plains by excluding the hills and mountains. Some section of the populace sees it as a threat to territorial integrity? What is your comment?
It is beyond doubt that this is a complex issue full of challenges. This is a reason why we carried out extensive discussions on state restructuring before coming to a conclusion. We endorsed the statute with balanced provisions. Over 90 per cent of the CA members approved it. And now questions have been flared up from different sides. This is not unnatural in a democracy. Let’s correct it, if we can reach a point where we can agree on it. But, here is the bottom line: this should be for the common benefit of the people and nation. The parties should show the necessity and justification of statute amendment. We are ready to cooperate with the government.
So is your party ready to review the federal map presented by the statute?
We believe that the present federal model is correct. While agreeing on it, we have made several compromises. We found a common ground by forging understanding with the other parties. Let’s discuss it if the issue is really serious and if it requires revision in the federal design.
The nation is marking the first anniversary of the new statute today. You had passionately been engaged in its promulgation right from the beginning. This is also the seventh statute of Nepal. Do you believe that it will be our final constitution?
First of all, I would like to state that the constitution is inclusive and unique in Nepal’s history from the perspective of the making process. In light of the promulgation of several statutes in the past, it is the only statute, which was written by the people themselves. The desire of the Nepalese to have a constitution written by their own representatives had finally materialised after 70 years of wait. In the past, the king promulgated the statutes. He sometimes did so by commissioning it to a committee of parties’ representative or through a commission of experts. Now, the new statute was written for the people and by the people. In the past when the embedded social conflicts were not solved, scrapping and promulgating the statutes occurred on the trot. Finally, we have the national charter written by an elected body. If the new constitution comes a gutser, then which institution is left there to frame another constitution?
I do not see any possibility of writing another constitution. There is no alternative but to implement the new constitution. If not, we will land in trouble. So the political parties that stood together to write the statute should again come to one place to implement it. They had promised before the people to stand shoulder to shoulder to write and implement the statute. I would like to request the journalists to remind our leaders of their pledge. Let’s put positive and continuous pressure on the political leadership for this. On the first anniversary of the constitution, I call upon all the political leaders to reminisce about their commitment made before the people and implement it both in letter and spirit.
Let’s change the context. With the Maoist and Madhesi movement, the ethno-centric politics has dominated the national politics and polarised the Nepali society. As you hail from the indigenous community, how do you see Nepal’s ethno-centric politics?
In society, conflict arises from different spheres. This should be rightly tackled. The issue you raised should also be correctly dealt with. At the heart of the solution to this issue lies the broader interest of the people and nation. No matter what process and method is adopted, it is imperative to transform Nepal into a beautiful garden of all. The present statute is a document of compromises. So I believe what we did was right. We should move forward based on this premise.
Now some Madhesi and janajati groups have projected the Khas-Aryan as an exploiting group. What is your comment on it?
This is individual view point. Look at my own Limbu community wherein many have been lagging behind socially and economically. Many of them have been exploited by members of their own community. Thus, it is not about a single ethnic group. If you talk about the Madhesis, one may find one Madhesi exploiting another Madhesi. Even within the Khas-Arya community, a large portion of the population is living in abject penury. Different ethnic groups have fallen behind culturally and socially. We need to build our outlook in a balanced and rational manner to overcome this challenge.
Some ethnic groups are trying to go back to the era before the unification. For example, some Limbuwan activists are claiming that Nepal’s unifier forcefully annexed their states. As you hail from the Limbu community, how do you see this extremist posture?
Nepal is a common garden of the people from diverse ethnicities spread from the mountains to the Terai. We have arrived at the present stage through various ups and downs in history. Now our identity is Nepal and Nepali. We have to shore up this identity. In it lies the broader benefit of all ethnic and marginal groups.
INTRRVIEW By Ritu Raj Subedi